The Great Debate: The future of Stock Photography

There are a number of interesting discussions going on about the future of Stock Photography. First of all we’ve had a number of well thought-through comments on our “What if Stock Photography dies in 2010” article. John Lund pointed to the fact that some agencies are still very successful. He says the key to success is a clear differentiation to competitors. Fenneke at Picture Nature and Steve at 4corners work at companies that follow this model and agree that there is a future for niche companies with a clear differentiation. Steve adds that:

“For all the changes in the industry, one of the underlying factors as to why picture libraries came about in the first place – that the best photographers want to be out taking pictures, not immersing themselves in credit control and keywording – remains as relevant today as it always was.”

Not everyone is that positive. David Houstle says:

“I’m glad to be turning 70 and retired. My heart goes out to the young folks trying to make it in photography”.

Ellen Bough says that stock photography is indeed dying a slow death and introduces the split between generic, commoditized photography that is either very cheap or free and high-end photography that tells a story. In her view there is no place anymore for mediocre photography. Resnyc (no name available) agrees and says photographers need to make a choice to either shoot high volume and sell through big agencies or “super high-end that will get you assignments”.

The thought pattern that is reflected here shows one where producing average content is no longer sufficient. At the bottom end there is good quality content that can be produced and distributed at very low cost. Any content that is currently in the middle is likely to move to that bottom-end (not a great description as the content will be of a good quality, anyone for a better word?). High-end will be true high end in this line of thinking. This does not mean Rights Managed or even Royalty Free. This high end is photography that is personal, unique and difficult to replicate.

Similar conversations in this great debate are taking place elsewhere. In this linkedin  discussion that was started by Marcelo Brodsky of Latinstock the focus is on adapting to change rather than blaming other parts of the industry.

It will be important to move beyond some of the dogma’s that still exist around the various models and go back to the content and how it is applied by buyers of photography. Ultimately they will decide how and what they will pay for images and this will be driven by the quality and availabitity of the pictures they are looking for. We’re back at simple economics where images that are available in huge quantities will be free or cheap and unique, personal and artistic photography that is hard to replicate deserves a premium.

Here at Fast Media Magazine we want to support this debate throughout 2010. There will be a number of follow up posts on “What is Stock Photography dies in 2010” and I invite everyone to join the debate now by commenting on this post or start a discussion in the forum. I’m looking forward to hear your views.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses